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The movie universe of Philip K. Dick

Matt Damon and Emily Blunt in The Adjustment Bureau (movie)

Matt Damon and Emily Blunt are Dick-crossed lovers in The Adjustment Bureau (movie)

Ten films based on the writings of Philip K. Dick

– by Regan Payne

Each year Vanity Fair, among other publications, produces an annual Hollywood Power Poll: a collection of celebs who, based on their massive wealth and success for the studios, could hand a list of names to their bosses to have whacked, Oldboy-style, should they choose.

These are film stars, producers and filmmakers who have made an impact, usually financial, upon the marketplace in one form or another. They are people who wield a tremendous amount of influence in both cutting rooms and boardrooms throughout LA and New York, and though some maintain that influence in other areas, many have simply cashed in on a successful franchise that they fell ass-backward into when six other actors turned down the part.

Then there are those individuals who never find their way onto such lists, yet have shaped the way films are written, directed, produced, and even enjoyed. This is much rarer creative feat, and far more impressive; irrespective of trends, this person has tapped into something so psychologically and/or emotionally resonant for us, that there work becomes a blueprint moving forward.

I give you: Philip K. Dick, the person who, perhaps more than anyone else, or at least as much as anyone else, has shaped the movie business in the last few decades (not a bad trick when you’ve been dead since 1982 – although, as authors go, I suppose Stephen King would have a thing or two to say on the subject). In many respects it is the Philip K. Dick template, minus the sophistication and paranoia, that has led us into the current phase of blockbuster, fantasy-based, action-at-all-costs, super films that gobble up our multiplex each week. (Read “A letter from Philip K. Dick“.)

Friday sees the arrival, almost 29 years to the day after his March 2 1982 death, of yet another film based on Dick’s work, The Adjustment Bureau, based on his short story, “Adjustment Team”. The film, called “an enjoyable piece of hokum” by Entertainment Weekly‘s Owen Gleiberman, would seem to have much going for it, not the least of which are its stars: two of the best right now, Matt Damon and Emily Blunt. The marketing team behind the film seems to be pitching this as a thriller, though a 21st-century Hitchcock angle seems more appropriate: a man on the run from forces on all sides. The film plays on the rather trendy theme of destiny, as in, will our hero accept his destiny, or strive for something more? The “something more” being Blunt.

Dick referred to himself, late in life, as “a fictionalizing philosopher, not a novelist”. It’s common for artists in different fields to refute the labels given them, either out of some sense of humility, but more often than not it is because the form their work takes is somehow irrelevant to their creative process. The worlds they create inside their own heads can never be fully grasped, however appreciative the audience. In this sense, I can agree with Dick’s assertion; he was no novelist. In many ways, he was a filmmaker.

10 films, in chronological order, based on the writings of Philip K. Dick:

10. Blade Runner (1982, based on the 1968 novel Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep?) – Science fiction royalty, Blade Runner stars Harrison Ford as Deckard, hired to hunt and kill four terrorist replicants.

9. Total Recall (1990, based on the 1966 short story, “We Can Remember It For You Wholesale“) – Being remade for a 2012 release with Colin Farrell in the Arnie role, Total Recall beat out Christopher Nolan’s dream-obsessed Inception by two decades.

8. Confessions d’un Barjo (1992, based on the 1975 novel Confessions of a Crap Artist) - Even the French have taken a crack at Dick’s work. Barjo, which translates loosely as “crap artist”, sees a crap artist move in with his twin sister and her husband, Charles, who has trouble relating to either of these two. (Dick was a twin himself. His twin sister Jane died six weeks after their birth, something he struggled with the rest of his life.)

Confessions d’un Barjo by bande-annonce-film

7. Screamers (1995, based on the 1953 short story “Second Variety”) – Peter Weller stars as Colonel Hendricksson, who heads up a small group of soldiers set on establishing peace in a seemingly never-ending conflict.

6. Imposter (2001, based on the 1953 short story “The Imposter”) – Gary Sinise, in a rare leading role, plays an engineer creating weaponry to destroy aliens – until he is suspected of being one himself.

5. Minority Report (2002, based on the 1956 short story “The Minority Report”) – A match made in sci-fi heaven, Steven Spielberg meets PKD in this story of a future where criminals can be caught before they commit their atrocities.

4. Paycheck (2003, based on the 1952 short story “Paycheck” – John Woo directs Ben Affleck as an engineer for hire, whose memory is erased after each job.

3. A Scanner Darkly (2006, based on the 1977 novel) Richard Linklater’s wonderful filmed-then-animated tale of a cop who becomes dangerously involved in a new drug.

2. Next (2007, based on the 1954 novel The Golden Man) – Nicolas Cage (really, it was only a matter of time before he turned up on this list) is a Las Vegas magician with an uncanny ability to see into the future. With talents such as those, it’s only a matter of time before the feds come calling.

1. Radio Free Albemuth (2010, based on the 1985 novel ) – I know absolutely nothing about this film other than that Alanis Morrissette is in it. The official synopsis lists it as a political-mystical-comic tour de force, about a record store clerk who sees strange visions, and soon finds himself a successful record company executive (in 1974 Dick claimed to have experienced intense visions that sent a pinkish beam of light directly into his consciousness – he did not however become a record company executive after this experience).

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